Craig Custance of the Athletic is running a series of blogs titled: “Stanley Cup blueprint: How the (insert name of division) teams stack up to Capitals’ best assets. In this series, with the assistance of Washington GM Brian MacLellan, he identified five key characteristics of the Capitals blueprint that helped lead to the Stanley Cup. Custance, to get an idea how many teams around the league have a legitimate shot at winning a championship, looked at them through the lens of Washington’s success.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list, as characteristics such as goaltending, team speed, special teams and coaching were not included. But it is an interesting exercise to evaluate the Rangers, as Custance did, versus the qualities he listed. I have provided what Custance wrote and then added my own take. Out of the seven teams in the Metro, the Blueshirts scored the worst in this evaluation.
1. Great centers with depth down the middle – Even when the Rangers were at their peak in recent years, this was always a bit of a disadvantage. They had good but not great centers. The hope has to be that this rebuild lands them one at some point.
The middle was an issue last year following the departure of Derek Stepan. Several believe this was the largest hole in New York, though seeing how last year went, other areas vie for that designation. With Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes both back for at least one more year coupled with the presence of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner and Brett Howden, New York isn’t a donut team any longer, though the moniker of ‘elite’ doesn’t get apply here.
2. A game breaker – Nope. Like the Islanders, this is another team that should be in full-on pursuit of Panarin.
Hard to argue here. The roster currently lacks a player that an opponent has to game plan against to stop. Panarin clearly would fit that bill and immediately be viewed as the team’s best player. Maybe Kravtsov ends up as that player. But right now, New York has a few skaters we hope will take the next step or three forward and be a borderline game breaker, but to date, no one is near that level.
3. Offensive defensemen – Kevin Shattenkirk qualifies. Brady Skjei has a great mix of size and skill. He’s an important building block for this defense, but they still need a few more pieces on this front to get a check mark for Cup contention.
My view is similar to Custance. If you look at who New York imported on the blue line at the trade deadline last year, none of them would earn the tag of offensive defenseman. We hope that at least 1-2 will be able to blossom into an all-around d-man, contributing on both ends of the ice. Maybe K’Andre Miller or Nils Lundkvist will be that additional offensive defenseman lacking in New York. Another name to add to the Custance’s list is Neal Pionk, who I think will end up better offensively that first thought.
4. A core hardened by the playoffs – The Rangers are slowly losing the players who accumulated the playoff experience together. Most of it is in Tampa. But as long as Henrik Lundqvist and his wealth of experience is around, you have to give them at least half credit here.
That was then, this is now. New York still has several of the core players that made playoff runs. But a good portion of the roster was moved out the last few years. This season could see the loss of Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, leaving Hank, Chris Kreider and Marc Staal as those remaining from the 2014 Cup Finals rub. When New York is next ready to contend, GM Jeff Gorton May have to import playoff battle tested veterans to bolster what likely will be a young squad.
5. Size – There’s size up front in the form of Hayes, Kreider and Jimmy Vesey. Skjei and Staal provide it on the back end. For what it’s worth, there are players with a nice mix of size and skill on the Rangers roster.
Size isn’t a major issue. In this year’s draft, Kravtsov and Miller each have size, adding to what currently already exists on the team. Importing size wasn’t a focus of Gorton at the deadline, but Ryan Lindgren brings a physical style of play along possibly with Yegor Rykov. A difference exists between having wide and playing physical. Zucc doesn’t have size but he is willing to play a physical game while Vesey has the size but needs to learn how to use it better and more frequently.
Total – 1.5 out of 5. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the Rangers’ rebuild, one still in the early stages.
The score is possibly a little low, but hard to argue. Custance gave Pittsburgh a four, Philadelphia and Columbus 3.5, the Islanders 2.5, Carolina a 2 and New Jersey 1.5. If you did add in and rate goaltending, team speed, special teams and coaching, the scores might budge slightly but not substantively. With the changes in New York, the scores for special teams and coaching might be N/A despite our view that these two areas should be better this season. Goaltending, Lundqvist would rank higher than many in the division despite his struggles last season while team speed is an area of focus and one where I think the Rangers will be a lot better than in recent years’ past. As Custance said, there is still lots of work to be done on the Rangers’ rebuild, but as we have said, I am for the most part, so far, happy with the direction New York is going, despite believing some other moves could have been made.
What do you think?